Ripping the fingernails

037d94fb9d5581a0672b8a8c736fcb93Now that you’ve got over the shock of a four-letter word on a Christian blog… oh, you haven’t? Basically, I came across this meme when searching for a ‘hang in there’ type, and despite being alone, I lolled (yes, I’ll hazard a guess that lol is already a verb. If not, I’ve just invented it, though as a linguist, I know that many people will be using it simultaneously; such is language change). Language change is at the heart of the phenomenon of ‘swearing’ – words that I use perfectly innocently can be anathema to an older generation (I learnt once!). I know that I myself would not say ‘Fuck off!’ to someone, unless I was REALLY pissed; I’d be more inclined to say ‘Piss off!’ but then that begs the question why one four-letter word that has a nasty connotation is ‘not as bad’ as another. This all has to do with what one hearer thinks of a word as opposed to the speaker, but I shall not descend into a discussion on this since it is the furthest thing from the point I wish to make.

For me, once I analyse it, I know full well that I should not tell someone else to fuck off but if I tell them to piss off, is that any more acceptable? Jesus spoke of language as abuse in his great sermon and even went so far as to condemn saying ‘you fool’, so I recognise, from the principles he taught, that using ‘fuck off’ is unacceptable, not because it’s a social taboo, but because it is usually said in anger and not in love! Anything from ‘c**t’ (that is still a word I could not even print) to ‘fool’ is condemned! Consider that for a while…

No, the whole reason I laughed at the meme is because that figure there is me! The one hanging on the edge, not the well-intentioned encourager. Having watched a science program on the nature of comedy, I know that this is one of the levels on which the humour works, and the four-letter word adds to the ‘unexpected’ aspect. I shall not go into all the details, but the past few years of things going awry has quickened to a pace I don’t think I can handle any longer. I knew that embarking on a book on finding contentment would open for me a can of worms in order for me to experience setbacks, ponder them (which I do as I lie awake at night – this blog is typically written in the wee small hours), learn from them, and then acquire the capability to write all about them, but that single can has become about half a dozen now. Yes, I’m getting quite pissed at my situation and my lot and I’m interjecting questions at God all about it, which is perfectly acceptable with scripture writers, so it’s fine for you and me! Even Jesus in anguish on his cross repeated the words of David asking why God had forsaken him!! I know that God is good and that he has my life in his hand and everything plays its part in a plan, but I have started to move away from the ‘only-inferred’ hyper-calvinism of the evangelical creed that believes every little action/ breath/ flight of a fly in the world is pre-ordained. God is not the cause of my troubles, but he does know all about them and has a workaround. I just wish he would share more of that personal workaround with me! He will, in his own good time, but the patience he gave me (I seem to have a larger share of that virtue in my personality than most others) is running out; my barrel of hope I got when I found Jesus on my path and changed onto his is down to the dregs: REFILL, PLEASE!!

What of the other character? The well-wisher who supplies only ‘encouraging words’ and maybe does deserve to be addressed thus? I have many dear brothers and sisters who offer such words, as I have done to others myself. The best ones are the ones who put hands on shoulders and say a prayer, and we take it to God together, or even give out free hugs. However, such words on their own are inclined to make me, in my impatient and troubled mood, say (internally only), “AWWW! Piss off!!” Totally wrong, but hey who’s perfect? Why be like this? I have been the relaxed onlooker on another’s life offering soothing insights, and I will be again, for sure. Maybe because I don’t want words, I want reality! Let meresurrected-jesus-modern-disciples take you back to Thomas for illustration; I always like to go back to Thomas. Great guy, because he’s just like me! [smug grin]

The scene

After the crucifixion of Jesus: The 12 apostles… no, there’s only 11 now… have had just about the worst shakeup of their world they could not have foreseen. They had become convinced that their master was the Messiah as prophesied and that this was the pivot of history. Their expectation was the same as all their generation. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was the herald of the dawn of the restoration of David’s kingdom, indeed the fulness of the kingdom of God was to come down upon the Earth, and the vanquishing of the Roman occupiers; Jesus was going to set up his throne right there, and the mother of James and John had already called shotgun on their seats at his side. They never grasped why he kept talking to them about suffering and sacrifice, and going ahead of them to a place he would prepare for them. While they murmured their misgivings to each other, it was Thomas who asked his Lord to explain further. He was the enquiring, questioning sort, and I read into the gospels that he was never fully satisfied with answers that were not complete in his own mind. Suddenly, an angry mob had come for Jesus in Gethsemane, arrested him amidst confusion and even violence, taken him away to a kangaroo court, and the disciples had dispersed and fled in fear. Peter was so scared for his own life that he denied knowing his beloved master, even with that swearing we were discussing! Jesus was tried and hung on the cross, died and was buried. They returned in sorrow and pain to their old lives, just not knowing what they had seen, who they had believed in. They met together again in secret, still fearing they would be tried as followers of that heretical Galilean carpenter, but Thomas was not with them. Maybe he just felt there was no point, maybe he had given up all hope, how can we know (we weren’t there), but he had stayed away, nursing his wounds in a solitary reflective way that introverts must do after a trauma. Then the other 10 came to him, telling him loudly and with inexplicable joy that they had seen Jesus! He had risen from the grave!!

Thomas, however, was not in the mood for just joining in with this hullabaloo. Bully for them! They’d seen something he had not. Why could he not have had a visit too? “Where exactly is Jesus then?” he must have thought, “if they’ve all seen him alive.” For me, Thomas was not doubting God, he was doubting them, and the doubts were borne from his experience that did not tally with their words. They could have possibly hallucinated in a sort of mass hysteria of wishful thinking that Jesus had not actually been crucified, but he knew that Jesus… was… dead! It was the words he was rejecting, because he wanted the same experience they had experienced. He wanted to see and feel Jesus with his own eyes and hands. In other words, he wanted the reality of Jesus to break into his life again, like it had been for all those years he spent following him.

I’ve had that reality enter my life clearly too, on many occasions, not least my escapade with death seven years ago, when I was all ready to say my goodbye and leave this world. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking of saying the goodbye to my loved ones, since I was languishing in the ICU and thought that I might just fade off there and then. That was when God reached down to me, spoke to me, and gave me a promise of further years. That was REAL! It changed my perspective in many ways, and ways I have yet to write about, but it has faded since then, with me being as human as the next person, and it only feels now like that ‘fleeting glimpse’ Pink Floyd sang about! I don’t wlooking-up-the-cliff-faceish to face death again (not yet) – been there and bought the T-shirt! I want to face life again, because right now it feels like that is what has slipped away from me, and the view from this side of the cliff edge is just that: the edge of that cliff! Like Thomas, I’m floundering in the doubts that all those things in the past have little to say to me in the present, and I truly want God to reach down in reality again, and show me what he can do, before my flimsy fingernails finally give way, and I fall into the abyss.

The scene a week later

Thomas is with the others this time, door locked, all still in fear. Jesus breaks in again and shows himself, says ‘Peace!’ He turns to Thomas and offers to him to not just see, but touch and feel him, and believe… again.

This is my prayer, Lord… this!

Grace be with you.

Sympathy for the Devil

Yeah, I know! The Rolling Stones beat me to that title by a lifetime! I was originally going to title this “I think Satan gets a bum deal!” but something about that didn’t feel right.

Why do I think that? Well, he gets blamed for many things that have nothing or very little to do with him!

My son came to me with a video he came across about Satanic symbolism recently found… on an energy drink can! YES! I could not help but laugh, but not at him… I’ve been ‘around the block’ and seen it all… Proctor & Gamble… The Care Bears… Cabbage Patch Dolls… SpongeBob… Harry Potter… and that’s just off the top of my head! And who of our generation could ever forget backward masking? Though I did know a guy who turned his vinyl record player backwards by hand, and he did hear a message: “You are ruining your stylus!!

[For the younger generation: vinyl records were flat disks that rotated slowly and the stylus was the needle that ‘read’ the ‘memory’ on them.]

Ozzy Osbourne: The Prince of Darkness!! Huh? Have you seen his reality show? These promotions of the ‘dark side’ and the rebellious spirit that goes with it, flipping two fingers to the ‘establishment’ is just that – promotions! Marketing promotions aimed at a demographic, usually the younger generation. And such subtle (or not so subtle) images and ideas do work in advertising or else they’d be dropped.

Satan is showing forth his power over the world by getting his wee symbols on marketed products, yeah! And real witchcraft looks exactly like JK Rowling portrayed it in Hogwarts!

If you wish to go looking for symbols, it ain’t that hard. Only today I noticed one; if you have the new Candy Crush Soda game on your phone, look down at the lower left corner on the home screen – if you’re heavily into ‘Zionist conspiracy’ you’ll latch onto that one! No, I don’t see evil in these markings any more than I could hear ‘Hail Satan’ in “tsud eht siteb eno rehtona” or any other ‘wop woo ebb wah nyek’ sounding recording that those guys kept playing until I was supposed to say “Oh, I hear it now!” just to make them go on to the next church youth group!

Where do I see evil then? Where might the influence of the Devil be found? I see it in individuals and corporations who have ludicrous amounts of money yet spend half their life trying to avoid paying tax on their fortunes (which Jesus unequivocally commanded us!). I see it in politicians who care not one jot for the poor. I hear it when Bob Geldof swears, but not in those expletives: in the incredulity he has at how little major nations are giving to help beat the scourge of ebola! I see it in the relative apathy shown by our press at atrocities in our world when there’s a better headline about The X Factor or Big Brother – it’s only when there’s little to report on celebrities or wannabes that real news takes centre stage. And I also see the evil in wanting to promote bad news above even the slightest good thing that might be happening out there. No wonder Christians today think “it’s all getting worse!”

Now there is something to address: how much of this ‘evil’ is within our churches too? How many preachers promote forms of politics or certain politicians whose record may not be squeaky clean? Right away, I find myself reflective, and is that not how we are meant to be? Recognising the sin within ourselves? If I’m brutally honest, that greed that is so apparent in the billionaire is present in me too. Who would turn their nose up at inheriting a good amount of cash? The apathy that I decry is also right there when I find myself switching the TV channel over from pictures of suffering to see that comedy show.

What exactly is Satan’s role in the universe? What is his ‘job’? His aim? Is it not to ‘deceive the elect’? How did he tempt Eve in Eden? Was it not by saying that she could become greater than what God planned for her? He tempted her to take pride in herself, in her ability to decide between good and evil, and to find pleasure in being able to judge others. It is actually in that recognition of his intentions, that his aim is to get us to look at others’ sins and failings and not our own faults, that we can defeat him. If he wants us to be blind to our own limitations and our need for Jesus and his forgiveness, then surely each of us seeking to change ourselves first and foremost is the most efficient way to defeat him? I shall repeat myself again: Revival is never about them, it’s always about you!

On second thoughts… all those things that Christians love to find and point out, out in the world that show the extent of Satanic influence, all those symbols and children’s shows and pop songs, maybe they are actually his ploys! Carry on as you were…

Grace be with you.

 

P.S. Here’s a wee poem what I wrote as a younger me, many moons ago (forgive the limited blog formatting, please):

DARKNESS

When the darkness falls

The moon has gone

And the stars behind the clouds are hid,

The angel calls

My spirit on

And my anxious fears to death are bid

But will I stand

Against the tide?

Will courage fail me at the test?

Or fate demand

That flight will bide

And put my skittish soul to rest?

 

How can I know

If I’ll be strong

Before the day of judgement dawns.

Time will show

If I am wrong

To think I’m king among the pawns.

Through trying times

I’ll have to learn

To learn from every trial I face

And face my crimes,

Those crimes that churn

Within my darkest, hidden place.

 

The greatest voyage,

It is said,

Has to start with the first step.

But this wise adage

Has conveyed

A truth which in our minds has slept.

To beat the rise

Of evil

In everything I see

I must surprise

The Devil

By seeing the sin in me.

 

Shanky’s Hollow, Mourne Mountains

25/8/95

Why I do NOT ‘support Israel’!

I blogged on this before, almost two years ago, simply asking why I should show support for Israel, as so many of my fellow evangelicals claim I should:

https://thealternativeulsterman.com/2012/11/13/support-israel-why/

My reasons

I’ve taken a break from other blogs I’m drafting, and my book, to address this again. I do not ‘support Israel’. Note how I placed that in parenthesis; the reason is simple: I am being asked to show a support for the state of Israel, or rather the government of that nation. I fully support the people, who have a right to enjoy life and freedom without the attacks on their liberty by Hamas or any other terrorist organisation. I also support the rights of the Palestinian people to those very same rights without the attacks on them launched by the Israeli state. Do they support Hamas? Many of them did vote for Hamas, yes (yet many have never voted for Hamas). Does that make them culpable in crimes performed by Hamas? No! Politics are complex, and voting is done for many reasons. Palestinians are subjected to propaganda by Hamas and convinced that their interests are best served by a group that ‘stands up to the aggressors’ (for them, Israel) than by a more moderate group who would just ‘give in’ to the Israelis. Israeli voters are subjected to the very same things, and one of the downsides of democracy is that in conflict situations, the peacemakers (the ‘doves’) often find they lose votes as anger leads people to vote the other way. I live in Northern Ireland and I still see it going on i.e. the peace ‘process’ is perpetuated, not resolved, since this leads to more votes for the extremist parties; I see a DUP-Sinn Fein alliance, not forged in secret meetings, but via a strangely unilateral understanding on both sides that ongoing spats serve them well democratically. Such is the scourge of political analysts and ‘spin doctors’ who run political negotiations in the 21st century. The same exists in the Middle East; if Hamas truly are firing their weapons from, or hiding them in, civilian places like schools and hospitals (which I actually believe is perfectly possible since it serves their purposes), then Israel only need to provide this evidence and show that they cannot fire on these places. Why don’t they do that? Is it not possible that it serves their purposes too? Hamas do not have the interests of their people as their first priority, and I believe the Israeli government do not have the interests of their people top priority either! In terms of actual casualties, Israel have the Palestinians well outgunned. With their wealth from the support of the US, they have constructed their ‘dome of steel’ that is practically impenetrable. I hear about the ’60 missiles a day’ (or is it 90?) fired from Gaza – how many have actually landed? Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the civilian casualty rate is about one in Israel. What is it in Gaza? Please stop perpetuating the Israeli propaganda that they are suffering; the game has changed radically from the 70s and 80s. Yes, they have a right to defend themselves, of course, but sob stories are very sparse on that side.

Major problem is that if I highlight anything Israel are doing wrong, I get labelled as a ‘Hamas sympathiser’ or a ‘terrorist supporter’ – this is childish!

[Just as I was about to publish this, my BBC news app alerted that the death toll is now over 1,000 – 985 Palestinians, 29 Israelis]

Other people’s reasons

The main thing I hear among evangelicals is that Israelis are somehow our ‘brothers’ (or at least our cousins – I heard this many years ago at an event in Church House in Belfast that turned out to be ecumenical). Somehow we are to stop persecuting the Jews and being anti-Semitic because of this ‘closeness of faith’ reason. You see, we as Europeans are guilty of centuries of pogroms and the holocaust, so we need to repent of this. Fine, a collective purge of conscience is fine. Let’s also do it over the crusades against all the Muslims! “Ah, but that’s different!” Why?

I oppose anti-Semitism for a very simple reason: I will support and defend anyone who is persecuted for anything other than an actual crime against others, be it race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, mental capacity, mental health…. To do any other is wrong, unchristian and sinful! James exhorts us to action:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)

For this same reason, I am against hatred and condemnation of Muslims (like the Palestinians) for the actions of moronic extremists (like Hamas). Stop being partisan and one-sided! Such hatred is too easily stirred, believe me please (see my last blog!).

The idea that somehow Israel is included in the salvation of God has been perpetuated by unbiblical people like John Hagee (who even stated that Jesus never said he was the Messiah!!!). His dual covenant theology (which he denies in name but preaches in all but name) is pure heresy and utter nonsense. So Israel are our friends? Well, Western evangelicals have been their friends, but is this reciprocated? Here’s an article to read; fairly lengthy, but if you’re a Christian with an interest in Israel, you will find it fascinating:

http://davidduke.com/evangelicals-who-serve-the-anti-christ-2/

Did you read it? All of it? Or was it too unpalatable? Duke really does come across as a Jew-hater, I admit. His whole site is a rabid anti-Semitic rant, but his points deserve investigation and/or debate. I analysed his claims, being the mythbuster that I am. His ‘sources’ turn out to be only about 3 in total, and the Talmud is so complex and so altered over centuries (unlike our scripture!) that it is very difficult to validate these ‘translations’ or versions – any corroborating sources I found were not exactly non-partisan, some were downright “burn the Jews!” There’s a good wiki on ‘Jesus in the Talmud’, but I didn’t read it all (beyond my interest, if I’m honest):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_the_Talmud. Plenty there if you want to look into it, but not for me.

I’m interested in the present day, not what some Pharisaical scholars may have believed. On that point, the persecution of Christians in Israel is well corroborated (while not reported by our media; they’re all ‘anti-Israel’ you say? Huh?). The ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ website lists Israel as a ‘hostile nation’ – just try sharing your Christian faith there and you might well face problems. Many will say they have had no problem and felt welcomed when they visited Israel. Firstly, not all Israelis are hostile to you! Yet again, we cannot condemn all the Jews for the actions of a few. A pastor in Israel was sent a letter bomb which injured his son, but he called for no retaliation against Jews for the actions of extremists. Good for him! Secondly, many Christians visit Israel with the same attitude that pervades thinking from the likes of Hagee. He claims he has met with every Israeli Prime Minister in the last 30 years or so, and they all love him. Of course, since he brings plenty of cash with him, and he doesn’t preach to them! He accepts them as ‘brothers’ in the same ‘Judaeo-Christian’ faith (you’ve read about the ludicrousness of that tag in Duke’s article, so I’ll not elaborate). And the experience of residents is never the same as visitors, anywhere.

The theology

Just sit down and read through Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (or even all of them), and the epistle to the Hebrews too (author unknown – I don’t believe it’s Pauline). Paul lays out clearly (as a former Pharisee himself, and a zealous one who actually persecuted Christians) how the new covenant is available to all who believe in Christ. He is the fulfilment of the law and the one foretold throughout the history of Israel. The true Israel of God were the ones who saw and heard him, and believed. The ones who crucified him weren’t “the Jews” but those in Israel who were unable to see his status as the Son of David, the Son of God, the Messiah. They were blind to the truth that he satisfies all the requirements of the law, yet the law was never the means of salvation – Abraham, who was before the law, was justified by faith! (Romans 4). Jesus stated that Abraham saw the day of his coming, and rejoiced (John 8:56). We who also believe in Christ achieve that justification. We are all sons of Abraham by adoption, by our faith. Stop believing this utter crap that the Jews have their own way to God! The ‘remnant’ foretold who in the end will turn back to God are in his hands, and they need to turn to Christ just like every other person on Earth. Interpretations of such end times prophecies can just tie you in knots, so don’t sweat it. We only need to remain true to the simple message of the gospel, and not allow any other issues to cloud it, in any way.

I shall unreservedly support any individuals suffering in the world (I am commanded to love even my own enemy!), but I will not unreservedly support their government, or any government, since they are all capable of being corrupted by power and of transgressing natural law and rights.

Grace be with you.

Standing for our faith?

Probably my last blog until I finish my Masters. The birth of the royal baby last night has brought out the British republican in me! All my friends know my anti-royalist feelings, but I have to be careful to state ‘British republican’ since the very word ‘republican’ invokes loathing and fear among many Ulster Protestants. I’m NOT an Irish republican!

Or am I? Hmmmm, when I look around the world and see the church in countries where it is in a minority, or worse, facing genuine persecution (even to death!), I see a strong, vital core of true believers who put us to shame for their dedication and commitment. Contrast that with here, where evangelicals are a very large, vocal group, and the Protestants are a clear majority; are we not guilty of being a little too proud of who we are?

Surely ‘Christian pride’ is an oxymoron!? It’s the very ‘Protestant Pride’ thing that repels me from the 12th July. Ask yourself this: had the border never been drawn across Ireland, how would evangelical Protestants be faring now? What would we be like? Politically weaker? Spiritually stronger? Is our strength not to be found in our faith and his grace, rather than our representatives at Stormont?

Just something to mull over.

Grace be with you.

Nadarkhani re-arrested!

As I posted on my Facebook page (haven’t time to do any REAL blogging now with studies and house move – be posting again in February):

Much more serious issue, people: puts things in perspective, and makes me realise that no internet for a few days is not THAT big an issue. You may remember my calls some months ago to write to the Iranian embassy about Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was facing the death penalty for being a Christian in Iran. Well, with all the international pressure we all put on them, he was released, Praise God.

Now he has been rearrested. On Christmas Day. Get writing again, folks, as it looks like they’re thinking that now all the media attention has gone, he’s been forgotten. And his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is STILL in jail! No point emailing the UK embassy in London as their inbox is full.

Here’s their address:

Iranian Embassy
16 Prince’s Gate
London
SW7 1PT

Despite my problems and woes, and pressures on my time right now, I’ll take a few minutes to do another letter. This man needs our support, seriously.

Grace be with you.

God forgive me!

Sitting up late here reading up on the new Archbishop of Canterbury (who seems to be a good evangelical and a good man, so far), I rediscovered my post here from MORE THAN 5 WEEKS AGO, where I called for support for the defence lawyer who managed to get Pastor Nadarkhani released (Mohammad Ali Dadkhah). I said I would lobby Iran as I did over the Christian Pastor, but so far, I have allowed other things to distract me. May God forgive me for my hypocrisy and neglectfulness in NOT acting so swiftly on something I said I would, and for a man who deserves as much support as our persecuted brethren. He may not be a fellow Christian, but he is still a great man and a hero. I WILL write to the Iranian embassy tomorrow (it IS late). Please do the same, readers.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/iran-must-release-human-rights-defender-mohammad-ali-dadkhah-2012-10-01

Grace be with you.

Kenya

A smart American preacher once said to our pastor that Africa was a bottomless pit when it came to charity. I wrote this as a presentation for our church when we returned from Kenya in 2007. A blog I started brought it to mind…

I stood at the top of the hill, looking down at the swathe of people crowding up the red-brown mud. The queue came from beyond our sight, and curled up past us into the makeshift canopy where they registered for the free medicine. I understood the meaning of the passage I had read so often, where Jesus saw the multitude and had compassion on them. But my compassion was minuscule in comparison, and overwhelmed by a sense of confusion and apprehension. Just how was I going to minister to these people? I was sure that others in our group, if not all, felt the same.

It was then that I knew, more than I had for a long time, that I was desperately in need of my Lord. I could not face this alone. A simple prayer was whispered from my lips, “Lord, use me.” I had an expectation before leaving Northern Ireland that I would be used in some way, but I should have known by then that His ways are not usually what we expect. In the midst of the melee, I met Oscar, a young man from the church keen on reaching as many of those around us as possible. His enthusiasm and desire warmed my heart as he took me by the hand. I know from missiology lectures at Bible College that in this part of Africa, men can walk holding hands quite easily, so I tried not to be perturbed. He took me, and others from our group that he could find, one by one, out to the crowds, and said, “speak, share your faith, I will interpret,” and flung us into it with gusto.

After Ivy spoke, one girl told Oscar she wished to come to the Lord. Ivy had noticed how Oscar found her Ballyclare accent difficult to understand, so felt it better for me to do the leading. I should have been dumbstruck at the suddenness of this moment, but here was a young girl seeking salvation. I opened my mouth, and said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, Oscar interpreted into Swahili, and she repeated his words. I never foresaw that that moment on a dirty track in the slums of Nyeri would be where God would use me, especially as I had not led anyone to Christ in 17 years. Praise his wonderful ways.

As we worked that day, and saw more and more people come forward for food and medicine, I said to one of my brother workers that it felt like we were only putting a drop in the ocean of poverty and need. Hopelessness was still trying to drown us. It was Friday, but on Sunday a thought came to me:

If every believer, every child of God who is called by Him, were to put a drop in the ocean, would the tide not rise?

Grace be with you.